Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

In the late-nineteenth century, mechanization led to fears about the possible consequences of overproduction while immigration led to fears about the possible consequences of overpopulation. This dissertation examines Gilded Age texts that represent regionalized spaces in efforts to process interlinked anxieties about a surplus of people and a surplus of things. I argue that images of excess and cheapness were rhetorically powerful in efforts to both control and advocate for unassimilated and nonstandard people and places in a nation increasingly dominated by an urban commodity economy. This focus on excess often takes the form of verbal or visual imagery, but I also repeatedly turn to texts that take cheap and prolific material forms, such as packaging, pamphlets, magazine articles, postcards, and catalogs. While some of the texts I focus on imagine containing, assimilating, or controlling regionalized people and places, others imagine empowered spaces where regionalized people do, or have the potential to, exist.

This project builds on realist and regionalist scholarship by arguing that the commodity’s imagined effect on regionalized spaces and people was the rubric with which some writers determined the potentialities of both the commodity itself and the nation’s imagined regions. In pursuing this argument, I analyze Aunt Jemima marketing, a pamphlet that Ida B. Wells distributed to protest Chicago World’s Fair, interior design guides, Edward Curtis’s North American Indian, Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, Zitkala-Sa’s Atlantic stories, William Dean Howells’s The Rise of Silas Lapham, Sears, Roebuck mail-order catalogs, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s short fiction, among other works. Ultimately, I contend that Gilded Age notions of the region were dependent on Gilded Age notions of commodity excess and that prolific print networks facilitated both hegemonic ideologies and regional resistance.

Date

5-3-2019

Committee Chair

Bibler, Michael

Available for download on Thursday, April 23, 2026

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